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[FEATURED NEWS] Breezing through immigration clearance by car with APICS

Travellers going to Malaysia by car may soon experience a contactless and seamless immigration self-clearance process when they return to Singapore with the Automated Passenger In-Car Clearance System (APICS).

Conceptualised by HTX, APICS is a proof-of-concept project that uses automation solutions to enable travellers to perform self-clearance safely and securely in the comfort of their vehicles. A live trial is underway at the Old Woodlands Checkpoint from June to October 2022. 

How APICS works

The way APICS works is similar to the current biometric immigration clearance at the airport. APICS integrates contactless biometric scanners, sensors, cameras, and other features to provide a secure, seamless, and comfortable clearance flow for drivers and their passengers.

If the trial is successful, Singapore will be one of the first countries in the world to implement such an in-car clearance system. 

APICS infographic

APICS includes a specially designed canopy – not just for protection from the elements, but for the biometric scanners to work well. “Biometric scanners are designed for indoors use and are extremely sensitive to environmental lighting conditions,” said Dr. Daniel Teo, Deputy Director, Robotics, Automation & Unmanned Systems (RAUS) Centre of Expertise, at HTX. “We managed to overcome this challenge by building a canopy with induction lightings to control the ambient lighting for the system to work well day and night.”

Daniel and his team of engineers behind APICS’ design also included thoughtful features such as an automated height adjustable self-help kiosk with ergonomics and anthropometrics considerations, exhaust fans to remove vehicle exhaust fumes within the canopy, and strategically placed flexible traffic poles to guide drivers as they enter the clearance zone and stop at the self-help kiosk.

The width of the lane, height and location of kiosks were carefully selected to ensure that a wide range of vehicles can use APICS. “We had to conduct multiple simulations using an array of vehicles with differing heights and sizes to optimise the placement of the biometric scanners,” Daniel said.

“The live trial will help us better understand users’ experience and how we can further improve the user interface and address any shortcomings,” he added.

Advancements in automation driving the future of in-car clearance

The version of APICS currently on trial draws on learnings from an earlier trial conducted from December 2017 to 2018, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The earlier iteration of the APICS prototype featured robotic arms that were used to bring wireless biometric devices (for fingerprints and face) to the driver and passengers in the vehicle. Findings from that trial suggested that self-clearance of travellers in vehicles was feasible.

“APICS has come a long way from when it first started in 2017. We were exploring the concept of using robotics and automation technologies to create a seamless and efficient clearance process for travellers entering and exiting Singapore by car,” said Cheng Wee Kiang, Director, RAUS Centre of Expertise, at HTX.

He explained: “Back then, we had no prior reference. We designed and developed a robotic system from scratch, essentially a robotic arm to hand the biometric devices to passengers in the car for them to scan their fingerprints as well as perform facial recognition. That was then the primary means of ICA’s biometric immigration clearance.”

Facial and iris scanning technology have since advanced, and iris patterns and facial features have replaced fingerprints as the primary biometric identifier for immigration clearance. The use of contactless facial and iris scanners instead of contact-based devices provide a more convenient, hygienic, and efficient immigration clearance process.

“With the advancement of contactless biometric verification methods and the key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have now developed the next generation APICS – a fully contactless system that offers a seamless immigration clearance process for car travellers – for the future,” Wee Kiang said.

AC Phua Chiew Hua, 2 Deputy Director (Operations), ICA, said: “With APICS, car travellers at the land checkpoints will be able to enjoy a more seamless, safer, and secure immigration clearance. APICS will also enable ICA to redeploy our officers to perform higher-value tasks such as profiling and risk assessment at the land borders.”

Dr. Daniel Teo (left) and Cheng Wee Kiang with the APICS self-help kiosk (Photo: HTX)

What the motorists say

Reactions from motorists on the APICS live trial thus far have been positive. Many were happy with the ease and convenience of the self-clearance, and gave a thumbs up as they whizzed by.

“This is definitely better than the counter, we should have more,” said Leonard Lim, who used APICS on his return to Singapore on a Thursday evening. “I have arrived at 4 am before and many counters were closed. With this, more counters can be opened 24/7.”

Jamerudin, another motorist, said, “This is very good. It is faster and will be very helpful to clear the jam.” 

“It was very smooth,” Dai Yang said. “I hope to see more of such automated lanes as it is a good addition.”



Read more about APICS in The Straits Times and CNA: